A Life in Grand Allegro

For the past year or two I’ve been living in a constant state of what if. I aimed high all throughout my high school years, but my trajectory was wrong and I ended up landing somewhere where I did not plan to be. Luckily, about at the time that my trajectory started going wrong, ballet came into my life. First, it was something just to fill my college resume.

At a time when I feel like nothing is worth it, I am glad ballet is worth it. Every measure of music, every tendue, every grand battement are worth it.

Reading the blogs of more seasoned adult dancers, I have begun to dream of the possibility of having a life in dance. Not the professional kind, of course. My view of reality is not yet that distorted.

I feel like a part of me has been cheated in some way. I did want to dance all throughout my childhood, but for reasons related to me and for other reasons far out of my control, I was never able to. I know, I know. There are tragedies far worse than not being to dance as a child. I would have never made it in the professional world. And dance does not owe anything to anyone, least of all to someone like me.

Now that I’m nearing a kind of conclusion of my sheltered childhood, I look at the choices I have made. I’m fortunate enough to be able to go to college. That I am grateful for every day. Yet, I sometimes wonder if this is really what I want and not what other people think I should want. Every morning I drink my coffee while looking at pictures of stockbrokers ripping through their ever thinning hair. That same hair has yet to recover from the massive amount of ripping that took place in  October 2008. And I wonder if four, five years from now on, I’ll be sitting with the same blank expression at some cubicle counting hours before I can go and sit some more in front of a TV set.

Will I do a disservice to myself by making my life about dance? Sure, I will need to get a day job. Anything that will pay for a small apartment somewhere in a big city with good dance opportunities. Somewhere where I can sit at night and listen to the sounds of city, taking in the millions of lonely hearts running somewhere, to all the meaningless places. I don’t know. I feel like I need to apologise in advance to my parents, because I’ll never become the successful doctor/lawyer/[insert some high status paying profession here]. I want to have a simple job so that I pursue my dream, my crazy dream. I want to dance.

Maybe I should even drop out of college, and save  my family and myself from financial distress. Because, paraphrasing Mr. Jobs, you can’t connect the points looking forwards, you can only connect the points looking backwards. Yet for someone who has neither the vision nor the talent of Mr. Jobs, dropping out is not the safe way to go.

Yet the idea will not leave me alone. I feel like I have nothing to lose. A few weeks ago, I  saw the following quote by Merce Cunningham on a poster.

“You have to love dancing to stick to it. It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive.

In an era, where numbers – whether the GPA on your college transcript or the number of Facebook friends or Twitter followers one has is the measure of a woman/man- will that moment of being alive be enough, I wonder.


An Instrument to Paint the Poetry of Music


Ballerina A. Danilova. (This image is in the public domain).

 Every ballet studio should hang this sign on its door: “Leave yourself here. Henceforth thou art an instrument of the poetry of music”.

The Beginner Ballet Class Drama, Act 1

We’re roughly half way into class. “Take a break, put the barres away,” the instructor says. While most dancers move to the front of the class, I feel fear slowly trickling into my stomach. This is a beginner class, this is a beginner class, I keep telling myself. It says BEGINNER on the freakin’ schedule. So I’m going to be fine. But I don’t feel fine. We start with a bourree on the diagonal and then a wide lunge in fourth. “Pirouette en dedans,” Monsiuer Ballet proclaims. Wham! I almost do a faceplant. Monsieur chooses to let me bear my shame in silence and looks away. The same thing again. I almost hit the floor. By this time, all I want to do is limp to the back of the studio and disappear quietly though the door.

I somehow make it to the side and plant myself on the window sill fighting tears. A few very nice people come and ask me if I’m okay. I lie. I say I feel dizzy, my head hurts, but what’s more hurt is my pride. After the reverence, I run through the door as fast as I can.

I spend the entire week debating whether I am ever going to ballet class again. Must go to ballet class, must go to ballet class, I repeat over and over and over, but the fear is already there. It’s a bit like falling off a horse and not getting back immediately. I fell off a horse during riding class once, and instead of getting on, I lay in the dirt and cried. And while I lay sobbing on the ground, a quiet silent fear sowed its seeds. It was the same, silent fear that took hold of me after the epic pirouette fail. I still went to class the following week, but after the barre I ran away. No more pirouettes, no more across the floor, no more almost falls and no more Monsieur Ballet gracefully looking away to avoid seeing my insulting incompetence.

The following week. It’s almost the I-have-to-start-packing-if –I-want-to-go-to-ballet-class-time, and I sit at my desk and stare outside. I look at the clock. I watch as the minute handle slides forward. I’m waiting for it to hit ten to twelve. Now, I’ve missed the train. I’m not going to class.  I spend the next week simmering in the stew of fear. “I’ll fall again.” “I won’t be able to get my leg higher than 45 degrees”.  “I look like a fat sausage stuffed into a leotard”.

Until, I realize.

Ballet is not about me.

It is not about  my personality, my dreams, hopes and achievements. True, I may have dreams, hopes, fears. True, when I go to sleep, for a moment I let myself imagine what it would be like to dance on the stage of Bolshoi or at the Lincoln Center, being beautiful, light, elegant.  True, I feel bitter about not having the chance to start ballet earlier.

But when I go to ballet class, I have to leave all of that at the door. Because ballet class is not about my fears, my hopes and my dreams. It’s about training me as an instrument of dance. An instrument to paint the poetry of music.

Not all instruments are made equal.  Schubert’s Serenade sounds different when played on a 50 000 $ Steinway & Son than on a cheap electric piano. And the electric piano will never be a Steinway & Son, no matter how hard it tries, how well it’s cleaned and polished.  But a dedicated pianist can make even the little plastic thing sound pretty decent.